Under the Willow School is a nature and play based program that cultivates imagination, creativity, cognitive skills and social/emotional learning through play.
For the young child, their work is their play and their play is their work. At a glance one might think that just play is happening here but… we are preparing the fertile soil in the Kinder Garden for future learning.
Children learn through their bodies, and for that reason you will not find us sitting at desks or using books and computers. Academic learning will come later, but, now a deeper learning is happening; a bodily learning. Running, jumping and climbing are all connected to the brain development associated with math and reading. We sweep the floors, make a daily homemade snack and wash the dishes, living deeply into the rhythms of our day. Our circle time is rich in movement and language arts connected to our breathing (in, out, up, down). Other daily activities incorporate watercolor painting where the richness of blue, red, and yellow are explored. Sometimes the colors dancing individually, other times swirling and twirling together then apart. Crayon drawings, outside play, and nature walks are also essential.
Imagination is so important in our work with the young child, as it speaks to the development of abstract thinking in later years. Young children live strongly in their imaginative life and imitate those around them. To this end, it is important for the teacher to teach through imitation and be worthy of that imitation.
Our classroom is filled with toys made of natural fiberswood, wool, and cotton. These materials have an innate warmth and beauty that speaks to the young child, working deeply on their senses. The toys are open ended, dolls have a gesture of expression and a “wood shop” consisting of planks, blocks, stumps and inclines. Also included are silks, cloths, and bean bags. Sometimes an airplane will be constructed, complete with wooden chairs for all the passengers. Other times a mighty pirate ship will set sail. The possibilities are endless! A “Pet Shop” filled with puppies and kittens opened up in our “town” and buyers were not lacking! The children are free to explore their world and express themselves through their play. When children are unburdened by media images they can freely immerse themselves in their imagination.
Our daily rhythm includes circle time, oral stories, and puppet plays that help to develop the child’s imagination and a loving relationship with the world around them. It is with deep intention that we choose to not awaken the intellect in the young child. We want the children to have many opportunities to practice their physical, social, and emotional skills. Learning to share, navigating conflicts, and developing the capacity for empathy and compassion are an important part of our work. Treating our friends with “gentle hands” and using our “golden hearts” is the work of the day. When we teach children through reverence and respect we can hope for a better world.
In our classroom when something is broken we try to fix it instead of throwing it away. We hope to instill reverence and permanence in an “on demand” and “disposable” world.
Our curriculum is deeply connected to the cycle of the year, and the rhythms of our month, day, and week. Working in this way provides a sense of security and predictability for the child. The children know what to expect and can then relax and get on with their work and play. All of our toys in the classroom have a specific place. This also instills predictability and empowerment in the child. Not only do they know where to find things but, they can take earnest pride in putting things away at clean up time.
A deep understanding and connection to the natural world is so important, in our play yard we understand the beauty of the dandelions – they provide the first nectar of spring for the bumblebees. The pussy willow and forsythia tell us that spring is here. A lush pollinator garden filled with flowers provides food for the butterflies and bumblebees. Our blueberry and raspberry bushes give us berries for muffin day. Our raised garden gives us carrots, kale, and tomatoes for our kindergarten soup. In the fall we pick the apples from our apple tree to make apple sauce for snack. Instilling a love of nature and all its creatures is paramount. Toward this end, we have bird houses, bat houses, and an insect house. In the spring, the children watch as mama bird goes back and forth with bits of twig, building her nest as butterflies dance on the breeze. Our kindergarten is called the Marigold class and marigolds are planted everywhere! In the autumn the children pick the blossoms and we cook them to make a dye bath for our golden play silks (preserving a bit of the summer sun). Learning to be kind and responsible human beings and good stewards of the earth is important here.
A deep reverence for ourselves, each other and the world at large is fostered at Under The Willow School. Our environment is formed with intention, therefore fostering both personal and social learning. Our teachers work with a deep understanding of child development and through the indications and principles of Waldorf Education.
Under the Willow Preschool is located at 45 West Walnut Street in Marietta. To learn more about our school go to www.underthewillowschool.com.